By Jason Cruz
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Welcome to another edition of the Layup Drill. In this edition, we take a look at the rising star of Washington football, Jordan Clarkson’s summer vacation, and a soccer star’s crucial game to determine his future.
All-American Rapp leads Dawgs Secondary
The University of Washington football team began its 2018 season this month and has lofty expectations of a national championship. If the Huskies meet their goals, safety Taylor Rapp will be one of the big reasons why. Rapp, a pre-season Associated Press and Sports Illustrated All-American, is likely a first-round pick in the NFL and is one of the pillars of the defense.
Rapp grew up in Bellingham. His mother, who is Chinese, met his father while his dad was in Shanghai for work. The two moved to Toronto and then to Atlanta, where Rapp was born. They eventually moved to Bellingham, where Rapp and his brother were raised. His mother’s parents moved from China to live with the Rapps and helped raise him. That’s how he learned Mandarin.
But in Bellingham, the Asian population is small. He claimed that aside from his brother, he was the only Asian at his high school. He and his brother played football for Sehome High School.
Unlike most areas, Rapp’s high school did not embrace the “Friday Night Lights” of football, where the whole town comes to support the football team. Instead, Sehome football was a perennial loser and it was hard to field a football team due to the lack of interest. In addition, Rapp was taunted because of his race — he was called names and made fun of due to the shape of his eyes.
A Chinese American in the NFL is very rare. Several years ago, Ed Wang, an offensive lineman out of Virginia Tech, was drafted by the Raiders. He was the first Chinese American ever to be drafted. Wang’s career was short-lived, although he is now the president of the Chinese Arena Football League. Wang recalls not seeing another Chinese face playing with him or across the line from him. Wang’s brother also played football at Virginia Tech, but did not go on to the NFL.
As many Asian Americans that play sports these days, one of Rapp’s role models while growing up is NBA basketball player Jeremy Lin. The Harvard-educated point guard, who became a literal overnight sensation when he burst on the scene while playing for the New York Knicks, is a revered star among Asian American youths. Lin, who now plays for the Atlanta Hawks, recalls how other players would look down on him and discount his ability. Rapp believes this happens with him all the time.
At Washington, Rapp is one of the hardest hitting safeties in years. He was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year on Defense. In the Pac-12 Championship game, Rapp made two interceptions, including one for a touchdown. His play earned him MVP of the Pac 12 Championship Game.
Not only is Rapp good on the field, he is doing well academically. In 2017, he gained acceptance into the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.
Only a junior, it would be a surprise if Rapp returns for his senior year at the UW. His size and ability make him a prime candidate to play in the NFL. Some NFL talent evaluators believe he may be one of the first at his position to be drafted, and may be a first-round pick.
Jordan Clarkson reps the Philippines at Asian Games
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson was honored when he was asked to be the flag bearer for the Philippines during the Asian Games opening ceremonies. Clarkson, whose mother is Filipino, played for the national team in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The Asian Games is similar to the Olympics — it is an exhibition of different sports amongst Asian countries. Like the Olympics, it occurs every four years.
The 26-year-old compared being the flag bearer to the NBA Finals he played in this past June, when the Cavaliers came up short against the Golden State Warriors.
“It was one of the happiest days I’ve had in my career, in my life,” Clarkson said in a recent interview.
Clarkson was given a one-time exemption to play with the Philippines, thanks to the NBA and the International Basketball Federation. In general, current NBA players are not allowed to play. Initially, the NBA prevented Clarkson’s participation. There was social media pressure from Filipino fans who wanted him to play.
Clarkson, who was traded to Cleveland from the Los Angeles Lakers last year, was the star for the Philippines National Basketball Team. He was a focal point for most countries that faced Team Philippines. Although Clarkson’s presence helped the team, they ended up finishing 5th in the men’s tournament and missed out on a medal. Nevertheless, Clarkson had the experience of a lifetime.
The inclusion for Clarkson to play in the Asian Games was more than just an attempt to get a good player to bolster a country’s efforts to win. Clarkson has embraced the Filipino fans who have rallied around him since he entered the NBA. When I interviewed him several years ago with the Lakers, Clarkson did not know too much about the rabid base of Filipino fans. He’s embraced them, as well as his Filipino culture. It’s a great testament to how sports can open up different worlds for people.
Win and South Korean soccer star can forgo draft
As Jordan Clarkson enjoyed his experience at the Asian Games, South Korean soccer player Son Heung-min faced at choice: helping his team win the gold-medal match against Japan or head to the military. Son, who plays for the English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, may be required to serve two years of mandatory service in South Korea’s military.
South Korean males must serve 21 months in the military before the age of 30. The 26-year-old cannot delay his service beyond the age of 27. However, the law also allows athletes to discount their time from service if they bring home top prizes at international sports competitions. Exemptions are given for winning any medal at the Olympics or a gold at the Asian Games. With a win against Japan, Son will be able to complete his service to the military in a relative short span with just a month of basic military training and then community service.
The draft does not discriminate even if you are a high-level athlete. UFC fighter Chan Sung Jung had to depart his career to serve in the military for two years. Jung returned to action after his two years away and won his first fight back. However, Jung was away from the sport of mixed martial arts for almost three years in the prime of his career.
Son’s fans have lobbied the South Korean government to ease the draft commitment for him. One fan went so much as to volunteer himself to serve in Son’s place. That is a very dedicated fan.
From an outsider’s perspective, the South Korean law seems to be a remnant of the Cold War to keep its country ready in the event of international or domestic conflict. It does build pride in the country, but also disrupts young people in the midst of their careers.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.